THE BLOG

Chris Stein & Blondie Photography Exhibition at Somerset House

25/11/2014 17:08 | Updated 24 January 2015

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Any photo of Debbie Harry is worth looking at. And she is very much the star draw in this wonderful series of photographs by Chris Stein, which have been brought together in this new exhibition at Somerset House to celebrate the band's 40th anniversary.

Chris Stein studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York but it was 1968 when he began deliberately taking photographs to capture the emerging downtown culture. In 1973 Chris met Debbie Harry. A year later they created Blondie and, well, we know the rest.

Blondie were right at the heart of the punk and New Wave music scene in New York and that time and city very much make up the spirit of this exhibition.

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The series of photographs includes previously unseen images as well as more familiar photographs. Individually the photographs are fascinating, many of which have interesting stories accompanying them. But as a collection, they really evoke that moment, that time, when the underground scene was about to break through into the mainstream.

None of us will ever be as cool as Debbie Harry and her star quality shines through in every photo of her. Chris' photography was key in capturing her look and establishing her iconic status. And that's reflected in some of the famous photo shoots that are represented here such as Chris' photo shoot for Punk magazine of Debbie with the baby dolls.

But it's the backstage, behind the scenes images that really bring to life the world away from the sell-out tours. There's Debbie lounging on a car just outside the legendary CBGB club in New York, the band having breakfast in Germany and house parties in the East Village.

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Debbie Harry is the icon, yes, but Chris Stein captures many other icons in his photos. After all, bands were often friends with each other, often touring together too. As well as the band there are photos of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Joan Jett and The Ramones - amongst many others.

The grit of the East Village is practically tangible in the shots of Joan Jett in her run-down apartment, or the contrived shots of Debbie Harry cooking in a dress (probably) worn by Marilyn Monroe in the apartment she shared with Chris after it burnt down in a fire. This is no MTV Cribs. The financial struggles of life as an artist are obvious.

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Each photograph is accompanied with a few comments from Chris Stein, usually on his relationship with the subject, how they met and his reminisces of that moment. It adds to the intimacy as well as our knowledge on the shots. However it is quite sad how many of those he photographed are no longer with us, and that does lend some of the images a bittersweet emotion.

I loved how this exhibition was showcased - the galleries are large and spacious and there's New Wave and 1970s classics blaring out from the stereo, from Blondie's own to David Bowie. There was even enough room for a mum to go round with a pushchair without hindering anyone else.

And it's all free too. Wonderful.

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Chris Stein/Negative: Me, Blondie and the Advent of Punk, Somerset House to January 25, 2015

Image Credits: Chris Stein/Negative: Me, Blondie and The Advent of Punk´, Somerset House, London WC2, 5 November - 25 January; somersethouse.org.uk. The book of the same name by Chris Stein (Rizzoli £35) is available nationwide.